[an updated version of this is now posted at the exponent]
[This is a photo of what my Book of Mormon looks like inside.]
Something I have struggled with, as I re-negotiate my faith in the church, is to find the exact location of the Book of Mormon in the grand scheme of my personal beliefs. Being that this year in Sunday School we are studying the Book of Mormon, I have now sat through at least a couple of lessons about how it is the keystone, how 'if it is not what we say it is, than everything else is a lie too'. Well, I do not believe the Book of Mormon is what 'they' say it is. Then again, I don't believe the all-or-none rhetoric surrounding it either.
What an enigma it is, the Book of Mormon, claiming to be a history of an ancient people on the american continent and also a religious book, containing the teachings of Jesus and his prophets. The account it weaves is extensive giving details of monetary exchange rates, record keeping practices, war strategy, political maneuvering, and the discovery of earlier civilizations; along with prophesies about the birth of Jesus (most 600 years before his actual birth), accounts of the formation of christian churches, and theological treatises on subjects like faith, baptism, receiving answers to prayers, and the atonement of Christ. It is a tale of epic proportions, produced in a very short amount of time by an 'uneducated' man in his early twenties. That, of course is a big arguing point of true believers; Joseph Smith could NEVER had made this all up, never in a million years! On the other hand, the historical and scientific evidence against the Book of Mormon is hard to ignore, like the doubtful DNA link between native americans and Israelites, and the lack of archeological evidence for the kind of civilization described in the Book of Mormon.
George Cannon (father of Elder George Q Cannon) said about the Book of Mormon "an evil man could not have written it, and a good man would not have written it unless it were true and he was commanded by God to do so." [Paraphrased.]
An anti-mormon Baptist missionary I once ran into said the Book of Mormon was the most trivial piece of trash he had ever read.
Mark Twain called the Book of Mormon 'Chloroform in print' because of it's ability to cause him to fall asleep.
And personally, the Book of Mormon has put me to sleep quite a few times.
Then again, at other times, it has captivated me, caused my soul to burn.
I've read the Book of Mormon about eight times. Once or twice before my mission, several times during, and a few more times afterwards. I had passage upon passage memorized (including the whole book of Enos.) I had never doubted it's authenticity. Ever.
Then a few years ago, when President Hinkley issued the challenge for everyone to read the Book of Mormon cover to cover, I found something had changed. Every time I sat down with the book to work on that goal, I found myself increasingly disturbed and angry when I read. Sometimes down right hostile. Eventually I realized it would just be better if I gave it a rest, and put the book away indefinitely. Others would talk about how much their testimony had been increased by fulfilling that challenge, and I would just nod and not say anything because for me, it seemed, reading the book was destroying my testimony.
That testimony still got shattered. And I find myself even more conflicted as I try to find a context for this collection of words and stories. What is the answer to the question of the Book of Mormon?
I just read this post over the the Cultural Hall, portions of an interview with Greg Prince in which he puts forth an alternate reading of the Book of Mormon. He posits: "Perhaps the most prevalent viewpoint in the church is either the Book of Mormon is a literal history of the Americas before Columbus or it’s wrong. There is an alternative somewhere between those two."
Prince goes on to suggests that perhaps the Book of Mormon is more of a revelation instead of a translation, perhaps a 'fiction' inspired by God for the purposes of teaching and helping mankind ("...a metaphorical Book of Mormon, if you will...") Prince recommends the reader "Get inside of it and grab the truth that’s in there, regardless of the form that it’s in, regardless of how it got to be in [there]."
It's a thought.
Perhaps someday I'll take up the book again with this new lens and give it another try.